Risk
2/1/2008
05:35 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Forget Terrorists. Watch Out For Backhoes

Terrorists may represent some danger to power plants, but human carelessness is far more likely to damage critical infrastructure. Given the events of the past few days, it's hard to believe that al-Qaida would even bother plotting to take down the Internet or a power station when everyday bumbling does the job for them.

Terrorists may represent some danger to power plants, but human carelessness is far more likely to damage critical infrastructure. Given the events of the past few days, it's hard to believe that al-Qaida would even bother plotting to take down the Internet or a power station when everyday bumbling does the job for them.On Friday, Flag Telecom said that a second undersea telecom cable had been cut, magnifying the disruption of Internet traffic in Egypt, India, and other nations in the Middle East that began Wednesday when a different cable was cut. Repairs are expected to take a week.

Flag didn't say what severed its cables. Conspiracy theorists no doubt will suggest an intelligence service or terrorist organization is behind the incident, but plain, old incompetence is a more probable suspect. (You dropped your anchor where???)

There is, after all, precedence for stupidity. In September, a backhoe cut a number of underground fiber optic subterranean cables in Thailand, temporarily limiting Internet access. In September 2005, utility workers in Los Angeles dug in the wrong place and left almost 2 million people without power.

As a paper on the reliability of fiber optic cables points out, "the highest failure mode is 'backhoe blackout.' "

It's time for the TSA to start looking for backhoe ignition keys.

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